The U.S. solar energy industry had an exceptional year in 2010. The industry’s total market value grew 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009 to $6.0 billion in 2010, according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Year-in-Review 2010, a study released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research. Solar power gleamed as a bright spot in the U.S. economy last year as the fastest growing energy sector.
Overall, 878 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) capacity and 78 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) were installed in the U.S. in 2010. That’s enough to power around 200,000 homes. On top of that, over 65,000 homes and businesses installed solar water heating (SWH) or solar pool heating (SPH) systems.
The U.S. PV market made the greatest gains in 2010, more than doubling installation totals from 2009. Much of this was helped by the Federal section 1603 Treasury program, completion of important utility-scale projects, expansion of new state markets and the declining costs of technology.
The section 1603 Treasury program helped fourth-quarter installations swell to a record 359 MW. The program was vital in helping the solar industry employ over 93,000 Americans in 2010. The 1603 Treasury Program was ultimately extended through 2011 due to its success. Initially, it was set to expire at the end of 2010.
Market diversification was another distinguishing characteristic of U.S. solar energy development in 2010. In 2007, only four states installed more than 10 MW of PV. By 2010, the number of states rose to 16. The top ten states for PV installation in 2010 were: California, New Jersey, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.
Declining costs were another significant factor in the 2010 solar expansion. Technology costs fell, installation practices improved and the industry further matured to help lower solar energy costs. The annual PV system cost declined 8 percent for residential property and 11 percent for commercial property segments.
According to a source at GTM Research, “The U.S. PV market saw a breakthrough in 2010 and is emerging as a global demand center for both supplier and project developers.” It was also noted that the report shows that solar energy has become one of the fastest growing industries in the United States, creating additional opportunities for small and large businesses.
Despite the economic downturn, the solar industry is significantly growing The solar industry is providing tens of thousands of new American jobs each year. The president and CEO of SEIA noted that the solar industry’s goal of powering 2 million homes annually by 2015 was well within reach.
Not only did the study provide an in-depth analysis of the U.S. PV Market, it also gave insight into the CSP and solar heating and cooling markets. The 75 MW Martin CSP plant installed in Florida is the largest to come online in almost 20 years and forecasts a pipeline of more than 9 GW of CSP projects under development. For the first time in 2010, the federal government approved permits for CSP plants on public land.
Solar heating and cooling markets also flourished in 2010. The top five states for solar water heating installations in 2010 were Arizona, Hawaii, Florida, California and Puerto Rico. The top five for solar pool heating were California, Florida, New York, Arizona and Illinois. The unpredictable and always changing natural gas and heating oil prices will determine the future of these markets.